The Musical Owls of Tennis Town

Wimbledon, SW19 is no stranger to adoration. Every year fans from all over the world flock to the hallowed turf of the All England Club to cheer for their favourite tennis player. Since the 1970’s, fans young and old have traipsed Wimbledon’s common in search of much loved mythical inhabitants, ‘The Wombles’; and perennial stars to Wimbledon theatre’s stage have entertained thousands with their words, songs, dances and a joke or two.

This year, during the third weekend of September under a crisp blue sky and late Summer sun, Wimbledon crowds had more entertainment to enjoy.  This time though it wasn’t the superstars of tennis that wowed the masses, nor the Wombles of the common; not even the stars of TV, stage and film. This time it was the Musical Owls of Wimbledon piazza that would steal the hearts of locals and visitors to SW19.

As part of the Merton arts and crafts festival, organised by Love Wimbledon, local piano shop owner, Fadi Hanna, donated the use of a street piano for visitors to enjoy. But it was no ordinary street piano.

“I wanted to do something that would bring music, art and the community together,” Lebanese born Fadi told me,  “something that people could get involved in.”

At the end of August, local artist Sheri Lennon received an email from the offices at the Wimbledon Art Studios where she works producing paintings and offering intimate art classes for adults and children alike. The email was from Fadi Hanna.

“It was an unusual request,” admits Lennon, “ but I really loved the idea, and wanted to help.

“Fadi is passionate about music and art in the community, and he really wants people to get involved- that’s why he provides a street piano, so people can just get up and play.

“And I wondered if I could also, as an artist, get people involved.”

With a background in education (over twenty years teaching and former head of Early Years in a top London independent school), Lennon knew just what to do.

She agreed to paint the street piano, as people played it!

Throughout the weekend, as Fadi Hanna’s team invited people up to the piano to play, around the back, Sheri Lennon was inviting children to paint owls.

Samantha Smith’s two sons, Jack and Oliver, were the first to stop and add their owls to the piano.

“The idea {of a painted street piano} really grabbed me,” South African born Samantha told me,“ it was fantastic that there was an interactive element to the arts fair, and that the kids could get involved and get some exposure and experience of art, music and creativity.”

For Samantha and her husband Brett, the exposure to the art and music of Fadi and Sheri’s Musical Owl Street Piano meant more to them than merely filling time on a Saturday morning.

“My boys absolutely love art and music,” explained Samantha,

“Having a bit of right brain activity, I think just balances them out nicely. We’ve found that doing creative things gives them the opportunity just to be quiet and still and alone on their own terms; time to be {self-} expressive.

“I see a different kind of joy coming from them {when doing art and playing or listening to music}, than when they are smacking a ball around.

“Art and music allow them to get in touch with a different part of themselves, the more emotional side, and sets it free.”

The individual benefits to participants of art and music are manifold and well documented, but there was a more profound and wide-reaching gift experienced by each and every visitor to the Wimbledon piazza during the weekend.

I spotted an older gentleman in the crowd watching the pianists play while the children painted owls and proud parents took photos and selfies. In response to a nostalgic look on his face, I asked him what he thought of the event.

“I think it’s absolutely lovely,” he told me in an unmistakable Australian accent and nearly 9,000 miles away from home; “To watch all these different families in the community, and visitors like me, come together and enjoy this special event. It’s made me think of my own family back home.”

His words reminded me of something Fadi told me when I interviewed him about his goals and intentions for the project:

“What inspired me, actually, was to get people in the local community together, because there is, unfortunately, a lot of separation in life,” said Fadi, himself separated from his homeland of Lebanon in the 1980’s due to civil war.

“Separation is in families. Separation is in communities. Separation, about one thing or another.

“My idea is to bring people together through music and art.”

Behind every great idea is a great need.

Our lives have become exponentially faster and more hectic since the laidback days of the 1970’s (the Womble’s era). Technology has busied our brains, and cheap travel has shrunk the world. While both have undeniable benefits, they also have disadvantages.

Families and communities in transit become fractured by the lure of ‘easy’ travel, while the undivided attention of those who remain is stolen by ‘smart’ technology. An idea like the Musical Owl Street Piano is an excellent antidote.

On the surface, the street piano was just one of many things to see and do at the Merton arts and crafts festival. Though in reality, it was infinitely more, as every smile on the many faces at the piazza testify.

For the short time that the crowds gathered to appreciate the music and art, they were united and focused. In moments such as these, people of diverse age, colour, gender, and creed stand as one community, bound by something more significant than the excessive busyness that defines modern life.

Will Price, one of the members of the public who stepped up to play the piano summarised the uniting feature of music and art perfectly:

“They are both forms of expression; when they’re put together great things can happen.

“Music is very international, it doesn’t have a prejudice against you if you can’t speak a language- you can always sing a melody. And with art there’s no language either, it’s just colour. They {music and art} are international languages that bring people, communities, and cultures together.”

The ultimate goal of Fadi Hanna had been realised, if only for a weekend.

So what now for this heart-lifting project?

Fadi and Sheri are keen to spread the goodwill to as many people as possible and are already planning another event. They are also in talks with various tube station managers to offer the piano as a temporary art and music installation on their forecourts. What perfect way to ease the stress of a commuter’s day than a little tinkle on the keys of a fabulously colourful piano?

If you would like to temporarily house the street piano for your own community to enjoy, you can contact either Fadi or Sheri at the links below and tell them where it will go, who it will benefit and why you want to give your community the magic of the Hanna Musical Owl Street Piano.

Fadi Hanna’s piano shop visit:

Sheri Lennon’s painted pianos page:

To watch some of the event, recorded live at the piazza,  click here

Matt Jardine is a writer and author. He enjoyed the Hanna Musical Owl Street Piano so much, he added an owl to it while the children weren’t looking! Shhh…

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